Much of the time, intercollegiate athletic teams meet regularly as a group for just a few months of the year during their season of competition. The Men's Soccer team at Maranatha Baptist University is an exception to that rule in what many would find as a surprising way.
In the offseason, the team shares biblical doctrine through music - specifically, a 16-voice men's ensemble called the "Tonal Defenders".
According to head coach Jeff Pill, the group was formed in 2010 after a player [Joe Zoller, who played 2009-2011] suggested the team expand on their pre-match tradition of singing Charles Wesley's, Arise, My Soul, Arise by getting together in the off-season.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"It is a rare sound to hear a classic Baptist hymn coming out of a men's NCAA Division III locker room," said Pill. "We have even sung in a hotel lobby during a makeshift pre-game meeting. That actually attracted a small crowd!"
The ministry team travels locally, ministering in Baptist churches around the southern half of Wisconsin, in Illinois, and in Indiana. For the players, it not only provides a means of worshipping God through music, but also a way to connect with members of local churches.
"'Tonal' is a great way for the team to connect during the off-season," said Steven Thompson, a three-year player and member of the ensemble. "It gives us an opportunity not only to get together, but also to work towards something as a group as we prepare to go minister in churches."
"The Tonal Defenders ministry has had a big impact on me," continued Thompson. "It really helps me develop a ministry-focused mindset. When we play soccer as a team, the goal is to win and glorify God as we do it, but when we minister with Tonal, everything that drives us is ministry-related. We want to edify and encourage believers and praise God."
Three times, the team has combined singing with soccer by traveling to Indianapolis to conduct a weekend soccer clinic in conjunction with Southeast Baptist Tabernacle and former Maranatha soccer standout Andrew Solarek, who sang with the group in its first two years.
"While the scheduling did not work out this year, going to Indy is always a highlight for us, as we are able to connect through the game that we love. It is also a blast for the guys to spend an entire weekend ministering together," said Pill. "All told, we have sung in approximately 25-30 different Baptist churches in the area, and have visited many more than once."
Aside from singing in local churches, the group has sung in daily assembly at MBU on multiple occasions, and have performed The Star Spangled Banner for special occasions on campus and before MBU home sporting events.
The group has ministered in churches on two different Sundays this winter and plans on continuing on their itinerary through April. Well-known hymns like Amazing Grace, Our Great Savior, and Trust and Obey highlighting the team's packages.
"I believe that we have made an impact by defending God-honoring music," said Pill. "It is a powerful thing to see young Christian men - none of whom are music majors - joyfully stating biblical truth through established, recognizable, Baptist hymns.
"This ministry is one thing that sets us apart, and greatly enhances the whole MBU playing experience. Not only does it keep us connected during the off season, but it provides an extremely important vehicle with which the guys can serve their Lord together in a way that is edifying to the local church. It is one of the most significant things that we do together as a team.”